The Arkansas Ethics Commission has accepted offers from two Pine Bluff City Council members to settle ethics complaints lodged against them by a Jefferson County election commissioner.
First Ward Alderwoman Thelma Walker will pay a $200 fine and receive a Public Letter of Caution, while Third Ward Alderman Glen Brown will be fined $100 and receive a similar letter, Ethics Commission Chairman Graham F. Sloan said in separate letters to the two aldermen. The letters were dated Friday. Brown’s fine is to be paid by Dec. 5, and Walker’s by Dec. 6.
Fourth Ward Alderman George Stepps and Mayor Debe Hollingsworth are the subjects of separate investigations by the Ethics Commission. There has been no indication of final disposition of those investigations.
Stu Soffer of White Hall, the lone Republican member of the Jefferson County Election Commission, has acknowledged filing complaints with the Ethics Commission against Brown, Walker and Stepps. The complaint against Hollingsworth was filed by Stanley Walker, a Pine Bluff restaurant operator and son of Thelma Walker.
Soffer’s complaint against Thelma Walker alleged that she failed to file a pre-election campaign contribution and expenditure report in 2010, that she failed to file final reports for the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, that she failed to properly report all of her sources of income on her 2012 statement of financial interest, and that she used her position on the council to obtain special treatment for Stanley Walker, who has been the subject of controversy over allegations that he has failed to pay city sales taxes generated by his restaurant, and former city collector Albert Ridgell, who Soffer alleged had improperly issued a business permit to Stanley Walker despite the ongoing tax issue.
Thelma Walker twice voted to reinstate Ridgell to his position as city collector after he was fired by Hollingsworth. On the first occasion, Ridgell was reinstated but the second firing stood when a reinstatement effort fell one vote shy.
The commission found that Thelma Walker violated state law by failing to file the appropriate campaign finance reports and by filing an inaccurate statement of financial interest. Graham’s letter noted that the campaign finance reports have now been filed and the statement of financial interest has been amended and notarized as required by state law.
Graham’s letter outlining the findings against Thelma Walker made no mention of Stanley Walker or Ridgell.
“It was failure to file on time, and that’s what I was cited for,” Thelma Walker said Saturday night. “I don’t comment much because The Commercial is not fair to the council — not just myself — and that’s why I don’t see commenting very much, but I do want to say what I was cited for, failure to file, which I admitted, and I don’t have a problem with the amount, $200. That’s the minimum amount, $50, for each one, and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Soffer’s complaint against Brown alleged that he failed to file pre-election and final campaign contribution and expenditure reports in 2012, that he failed to report all of his income on his 2012 statement of financial interest, and that he improperly used the Jefferson County Quorum Courtroom to perform marriages for a fee in his capacity as a former justice of the peace.
The commission found that Brown had violated state law in regard to the campaign finance reports and the statement of financial interest. Graham’s letter noted that the statement of financial interest has been amended.
No mention was made of the allegation regarding use of the quorum courtroom.
Both letters indicated that the two council members had submitted offers of settlement that were accepted by the Ethics Commission.
“While Alderman Brown receiving a minor rebuke from the Ethics Commission about report filing mistakes was anticipated, I’m interested in learning what other agencies will say after looking into how income from his marriage-for-profit business was treated,” Soffer said in an email Saturday. “I still disagree with his being able to use the Quorum Court room for a business for profit.
“I’ve asked the Ethics Commission director about the allegation of Ms. Walker using her elected office to obtain special treatment for her son’s restaurant that owes (the) city of Pine Bluff back taxes not being addressed in the settlement,” Soffer added. “Even if she dodged the legal bullet on that one, I believe voters are going to have a significant problem with her actions.”
Brown did not return a message Saturday.
• Click here to see the letter to Walker (PDF format): http://media.pbcommercial.com/pdf/Walkerfinal.pdf
• Click here to see the letter to Brown (PDF format): http://media.pbcommercial.com/pdf/Brownfinal.pdf